Valentine’s Day is, to many, the perfect opportunity to pop the question, and it’s likely that many social media feeds are full of pictures of happy newly engaged couples around this time of year.
“What happens if it all goes wrong?” is, understandably, not a subject people want to address prior to, or in the immediate aftermath of, getting engaged. However, this question is of course of significant importance if an engaged couple sadly decide to separate prior to their marriage, particularly if they have been living together. We explore this further below.
Who keeps the engagement ring after a separation?
You have paid three times your monthly salary to buy the perfect engagement ring for your fiancé, but you have now decided to separate and you want one of the most expensive items you have ever purchased back. So, what happens to the engagement ring when you break up and can you demand that it’s returned to you?
Fortunately, the law offers clarity on this point and states that the gift of an engagement ring shall be presumed to be an absolute gift. However, this presumption can be rebutted by proving that the ring was given on the condition, express or implied, that it should be returned if the marriage did not take place for any reason.
It is rare for couples to document that an engagement ring shall be returned if the marriage were not to take place, as it is not exactly the most romantic of topics, so it is broadly the case that the vast majority of engagement rings can be treated as gifts and any return will be discretionary.
Do I gain any legal rights from being engaged rather than married?
In basic terms, save for a few minor exceptions, you do not gain any particularly notable rights as a result of getting engaged. For the purposes of establishing legal rights, you will broadly continue to be seen as a cohabiting couple until married.
Should the relationship end, the financial claims are more limited than if you were married to your partner. Perhaps the most common issue that arises in these circumstances is what happens to a property owned solely by one party. Issues relating to finances when unmarried parties are separating can, as a result, be more complicated.
Accordingly, couples who are engaged and living together, particularly in the event they do not intend to get married quickly, may still wish to consider entering into a cohabitation agreement to outline what will happen on separation. This can, if the parties wish, include provision for the return of items including the engagement ring.
Should I make any legal agreements with my partner when getting engaged?
As above, if parties are looking towards a long engagement while living together, with little urgency to getting married, a cohabitation agreement can assist by codifying the agreements you have made. It may also be appropriate to enter into a Declaration of Trust in respect of any jointly owned property where there have been unequal contributions to (for example) the deposit.
In addition, some couples, in the run up to their marriage, see value in entering into a pre-nuptial agreement which, whilst not legally binding, can be given significant weight as to how assets are to be divided on divorce.
How Moore Barlow can help you
If you are looking to explore the options available to you, and if you would like advice as to how certain agreements may be able to assist you, please contact our family team.